The Intersection of Judicial Independence, Women’s Rights, and State Constitutions

The Intersection of Judicial Independence, Women’s Rights, and State Constitutions - Proteus Fund

On April 26, 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court confirmed a court of appeals ruling that a woman’s right to choose is imbedded in the state’s constitution. This followed years of relentless work by Kansans for Fair Courts—a coalition led by Piper grantee Kansas Values Institute—to defend judicial independence. It’s not just a significant victory for reproductive rights, but also a clear demonstration of the importance of pushing back against special interests’ attacks against the courts.

Special interest groups, including Kansans for Life, have for years attempted to inject partisan politics and force the state supreme court to rule in alignment with their anti-choice agenda. Between 2013 and 2016, over 55 bills were introduced to reconfigure or punish Kansas’ judicial branch—with one bill going so far as to completely defund all Kansas courts.

Thanks to the relentless work of Kansans for Fair Courts, the attempts to politicize the courts failed.

Kansas is not alone in seeing anti-choice groups target state courts. Last year, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a 72-hour waiting period violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. In response, the legislature filed multiple bills to change Iowa’s judicial selection system, so that special interest groups would have more control over who is on the bench. Those advocating for the change argue that the Iowa Supreme Court abused its power in abortion rulings. One of the supporters of the bill has stated that, “It’s time for the legislature to take back its power from the court.”

On the final day of the Iowa legislative session, a bill advanced through the legislature that would allow the governor to appoint the majority of the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which vets candidates for the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals. On the surface, this may appear to be innocuous, however, it does have the potential of threatening the system of checks and balances—if the governor controls the majority membership of the JNC, then the governor has some influence over who that group nominates. Piper Action Fund grantee, Justice Not Politics (Iowa), is determining next steps.

This is just a snapshot of the importance of an independent judiciary for our rights, and the attacks in Iowa and Kansas demonstrate how special interest groups have posed legislative threats with the goal of rigging our system of checks and balances.

Piper Fund and Piper Action Fund directly support state-based groups that are advocating for judicial independence via pushing for reforms that insulate the courts against special interests or pushing back against groups that are trying to control state courts.

For more information on Piper’s work to defend the courts, please visit our Judicial Independence page.